The School of Health Sciences, under the leadership of Professor Sabiha Essack, recently held a workshop on the Westville campus to obtain specialist expertise for the curriculum design of a new Bachelor of Dental Surgery degree.

The degree – the first of its kind in KwaZulu-Natal – will be added to health professional degree programmes at UKZN from 2015.

Held in partnership with the provincial Department of Health (DoH), the workshop brought together stakeholders from private practice and academics from other South African universities.

In comparison to the Western Cape and Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal is reputed to have the lowest dentist population ratio despite being a highly populated province. Service statistics were severely skewed towards extraction and treatment backlogs were unacceptably large and thought to be under-estimated.

The establishment of a fully-fledged dentistry school for KwaZulu-Natal has received support from the DoH and is explicitly mentioned in the province’s Oral and Dental Services Ten Point Plan.

The Ten Point Plan aims to establish and implement comprehensive preventive programmes and promote oral health campaigns including school-based brushing, fissure sealant and screening and education programmes as well as comprehensive pain and sepsis relief programmes.

It also aims to reduce the extraction to restoration ratio and establish:

* regional maxillofacial and oral surgery services
* a regional orthodontic service for school children
* a district denture service for the elderly and pensioners
* provincial intervention mobile dental clinics
* centralised dental technology and laboratory services
* a KwaZulu-Natal Dental School and increase dental specialist training capacity.

Another of its goals is to overhaul infection prevention and control measures in all dental facilities.

Currently, no dentists or specialists are trained in KwaZulu-Natal and these patterns in training were said to have resulted in inequities geographically and racially.

Essack said UKZN offered mid-level training for dental therapists and oral hygienists only, however, it was envisioned that the new Bachelor of Dental Surgery degree would produce the sought after calibre of dentists as well as postgraduates in the various dental specialisations. She said UKZN was in a unique and advantageous position of being able to design a student and community-centred curriculum from scratch.

Professor Trish McInerney of the University of the Witwatersrand’s Centre for Health Sciences Education unpacked various theories of learning, saying that in terms of curriculum development there needed to be clarity on what kind of graduates the Bachelor of Dental Surgery was expected to produce.

McInerney said certain theories could inform how to incorporate evidence-based practice, a multidisciplinary approach, effective communication, experiential learning, student-centred learning, professionalism and ethics in the curriculum.

She said it was important to consider the student body’s history and background and whether the lecturers being appointed were adaptable to innovative teaching styles. Also important were the core competencies expected from the students, the disease profile of the community, the availability of resources, clinical facilities for learning, social accountability, and student assessment.

Professor Fanie Botha, Director for College Professional Services, said the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the College, Professor Rob Slotow, and the University management within the College, all agreed there was a need to train more dentists in the province.

Botha, who also holds a PhD in Dentistry, said they would present the new curriculum design to the University Senate for approval in August and looked forward to the construction of UKZN’s new health sciences campus and the Department of Health’s new hospital complex.

He said this new establishment would be ideal for all health sciences training, including the new Bachelor of Dental Surgery degree, ‘but in the interim we would like to move forward, design a curriculum, and start training dentists’.

The King Dinuzulu Hospital Complex in Durban had the necessary facilities to train this “new generation” of dentists “in the province, for the province”.

Dr Jimmy Mthethwa, Provincial Manager for DoH’s Oral Health Service, said it was important for the new qualification to link student training, research and service delivery to benefit KwaZulu-Natal.

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